SAG: Image is everything

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SAG is urging the California Supreme Court to review a recent appeals court decision that the guild says severely limits the rights of publicity for its members and others in the public eye.

In a Sept. 10 letter, SAG general counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland wrote that the June decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeal places an unfair burden on people in the public eye to police unauthorized uses of their image.

In 2003, Russell Christoff sued Nestle, claiming it used his picture without permission on the label of its Taster's Choice brand coffee. A jury awarded Christoff $15.3 million in damages.

But the appeals court tossed the award and found under state law that Christoff should have brought his lawsuit within two years of the first use of his photo, which was in 1998. Christoff claims he was unaware of his face on the label until 2002.

Crabtree-Ireland said the decision is important to its members and those in the public eye because a "cornerstone of their careers" involves licensing the rights to display their image, including in product endorsements.

"The consequence of the opinion is the erosion of a critical protection relied upon by performers, models, athletes and other public figures whose names, reputations and likenesses may have value," Crabtree-Ireland wrote. "The end result of this opinion is to unjustly enrich those who would tread on — and profit from — the rights of others."
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